The opening day of 2021 free agency had no shortage of signings and moves to reign in the new season. During the course of the last week, many signings had been reported, however, there were plenty of surprises that have taken the league by surprise to start the latest campaign.
Phillip Danault – L.A. Kings
It was no secret that Phillip Danult’s time in Montreal had come to an end. The 28-year-old centerman has spent the past five-plus seasons with his hometown team and has become one of the league’s best shutdown centers. Last season, Danualt was offered a long-term contract extension with the Canadiens, however, opted to turn it down. The Quebec native had grown skeptical of his role with the Habs, seeing that Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi had stepped up in the postseason, leaving Danualt put to work on the third line. Danault had a tough start to the 2020-21 season, but started to find his game in the latter stages of the year. In the playoffs, he was a big reason why the Canadiens were able to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals. His offence may not have been prominent, however, he was able to shut down every team’s top players leading up to the championship series. From Auston Matthews to Mark Stone, Danault proved that he is an elite defensive-minded centerman who can shut down the best of the best when it matters most.
Danault signed a six-year contract with the Los Angeles Kings, a move that has surprised many, to say the least. While he was offered $3 million more by the Kings than he was by Montreal, it’s clear why he signed in Los Angeles. However, his past skepticism about his role with the Habs could very well follow him to sunny california. The Kings already have one of the league’s best two-way centers in Anze Kopitar, who slots in on the team’s first line. For someone who made it clear that he didn’t want to play on the third line, joining a club that already has a superstar on the first line and two of the best center prospects in the league looking ready to make the jump to pros, his decision to join L.A. is a curious one, to say the least.
Dougie Hamilton – New Jersey Devils
Dougie Hamilton had been one of the most talked-about names in the NHL all year, with his future in Carolina up in the air. Being set to hit the open market at the season’s conclusion, contract talks with the Hurricanes were a constant narrative to follow in the hockey world. When news broke that the two sides had tabled discussions until year’s end, Hamilton’s future in Carolina become more uncertain. The Hurricanes and Hamilton had negotiated for some time, however, they were not able to come to an understanding. Carolina never had a chance to sign their top defenseman, as he signed a massive seven-year, $63,000,000 contract with the New Jersey Devils. The deal carries an AAV of $9 million per year, which the team was never going to be able to match.
The large contract does not come as a major surprise considering the fact that fellow blue-liner Seth Jones just got a similar contract (eight years, $76,000,000) with the Chicago Blackhawks earlier this week. Hamilton joins a rebuilding Devils club, who have been working hard to make it back to the playoffs, where he will be their top-pairing defenseman, and thus, will see every situation on the ice. This will shape him into a leader on a young, rebuilding team.
Blake Coleman – Calgary Flames
It was assumed that back-to-back Stanley Cup Champion Blake Coleman would be finding a new home for the upcoming season. While many had reported that he was looking to join his hometown team in the Dallas Stars, Coleman ended up signing with the Calgary Flames. Coleman will earn $4.9 million per year on his new six-year, $29,400,000 contract. This is a significant raise from the three-year, $5,400,000 contract that he signed with the New Jersey Devils, which he is now coming off of. The veteran has been a huge piece for the Tampa Bay Lightning in their back-to-back Stanley Cup wins, proving that he was worth the high price of a first-round pick, plus top-prospect Nolan Foote that it took to acquire him.
Calgary landing the former New Jersey draft pick comes as a shock to many who had reason to believe he’d go elsewhere. However, Flames fans should be excited about their newest winger. Coleman could play up and down the lineup, but will certainly be given a top-six role. He is a versatile, hard-working two-way forward who you always want on your team and hate to play against. Coleman will be used in all situations and is no stranger to finding the back of the net. The Flames are making their team more competitive and tougher to play against by adding his presence and he will be a welcome addition to the C of Red family.
Phillip Grubauer – Seattle Kraken
With over $30 million in cap space, the Seattle Kraken were expected to make a splash on the opening day of 2021 free agent frenzy. The Kraken were reportedly looking at skaters such as Dougie Hamilton, or Gabriel Landeskog on the open market, and even potentially acquiring a big name via trade. Instead, Seattle changed their direction and made a big splash in a different part of their roster. In a move that not many people could saw coming, the Seattle Kraken signed goaltender Phillip Grubauer to a six-year, $35,400,000 contract, with an AAV of $5,900,000. The Kraken made waves at the expansion draft when they passed up on selecting Carey Price in favour of younger, cheaper netminders in Chris Driedger and Vitek Vanecek. They proceeded to lock up Driedger to a three-year, $10,500,000 contract and have Vanacek signed for another year at $716,667. Grubauer is set to be the starter in the Pacific North West, a post that leaves Driedger to fill the hockey club’s backup role.
With the promise that both Grubauer and Driedger have shown through their careers, Seattle was not expected to be looking at a big name goaltender, however, in doing so, they have shown their dedication to fielding a competitive team right off the draw, just like the Vegas Golden Knights did in their inaugural season.
Linus Ullmark – Boston Bruins
The Boston Bruins had a busy first day of free agency, adding numerous players, and one of their biggest moves happens to be the most shocking one. Veteran goaltenders Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak have hit the open market, and instead of announcing that either backstop will be returning, the team announced the acquisition of a new face between the pipes. Boston has signed goaltender Linus Ullmark, who has spent his entire six-year NHL career with the Buffalo Sabres, to a four-year, $20,000,000 contract. The deal, which pays Ullmark $5,000,000 per season, highlights Boston’s intentions to split the goalie crease this year between Jeremy Sweyman and Linus Ullmark. Bringing Ullmark in for the next four years while paying him starting goaltender money was followed up by the news that Tuukka Rask had just undergone surgery and will now be sidelined until either January or February.
Rask has indicated that he wants to return to Boston should he decide to make an NHL comeback, however, could also end up hanging up the skates. Ullmark is set to be the new starter and is ready to show the world what he’s truly capable of. His skill has oftentimes been overshadowed by the poor play of those around him, however, in reality, he has been one of the few bright spots on roster in Buffalo.